HEAVY OBJECT:Volume11 Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Elusive Financial Source >> Ice Breaking Bombardment at Africa’s Cape of Good Hope
A structure floated oddly on the lead-colored ocean.
It was somewhere between five and ten meters long and it was spherical in shape, but it oddly did not roll as it was shaken between the waves. The hatch remained on the top at all times and the porthole on the side remained in the same spot.
It was a type of lifeboat.
It had plenty of emergency supplies, communications equipment, a heater, and even a generator making use of the current and the wind. As opposed to something prepared on a ship, it was more of a product for the wealthy disaster-prepper.
Inside that cradle were three blonde girls with red military uniforms meant for parades.
They each had a different hairstyle, but their identical faces made it clear they were triplets.
Alisa Martini Sweet.
Rica Martini Medium.
Orsia Martini Dry.
They were all genius girls created by the Information Alliance’s Project Whiz Kid. It would be hard to find a more severe upbringing in any of the four world powers, but the girls themselves barely seemed to care. They elegantly grabbed tea cakes and reached for the cups inside the round boat.
Instead of coffee or tea, the cups contained an energy drink full of caffeine and other stimulants that was “kind to the body in its lack of sugar, yet somehow unsatisfying”. That showed the Information Alliance side of things most of all.
“A-are you sure this is safe? We left the fleet a long time ago and we’re just floating out here on the ocean with no one to protect us.”
The young man in charge of their care was sweating bullets.
Alisa, the triplet with the largest chest, replied lazily.
“Dooon’t worry. This isn’t some big ship like a cruiser or a missile submarine.”
The other two were not so much agreeing as they were driving away the question because they did not feel like dealing with it. However, the normal young man was too worried to accept anything but a proper explanation.
“B-but we’re in the middle of the battlefield here, the Legitimacy Kingdom Object will be here any moment, um, and all of you are officers with medals hanging from your chest, so it would be very bad if you were captured. In the worst case, you might meet the same fate as someone in a light SM video!!”
“Yes, but there is nothing to worry about. Look, our Laser Cracker 001 was sent out to this region of sea. That’s turned this into an ocean of death, so there’s plenty of wreckage from cargo ships and cruise ships. And of course, there are plenty of lifeboats that dried up after no one detected their SOS signal.”
“You’re just scaring me more!!”
“I’m saying no one will notice us because we’re disguising ourselves as one of those. Do you want us to completely vanish from the Legitimacy Kingdom’s radar? Cutting-edge stealth fighters might be able to reduce their cross-section to a minimum, but not even they can completely vanish. The clever approach is to create a situation where the enemy will remove you from consideration even if you appear on their radar screen. Don’t you think?”
But the normal young man did not grasp that at all. He could not even imagine a chess game three moves ahead, so it may have been asking too much of him to stand in the same world as the Martini Series that would look a hundred years into the future. Blaming only him would be cruel.
After all, the girls were intentionally avoiding a smooth conversation.
Alisa responded to his question by showing off more knowledge than necessary, Rica toyed with some playing cards while feigning apathy, and Orsia feigned disinterest in the opposite sex while clinging to the young man’s arm.
The triplets all held the same thing in their hearts.
It was said these unmanageable geniuses would stage a jailbreak even if they were thrown into a top-security prison, but for some reason they acted like proper members of society when around this young man. That fact explained what was going on here.
“Hey, Dry. It looks like the Laser Cracker 001 has reached its position.”
“I’m monitoring the Legitimacy Kingdom’s movements, Medium. You need to get ready too, Sweet.”
“Understood, Dry. Now, let’s get to work.”
The young man nervously looked around.
His presence was the sweet chain tying the three Martinis to the Information Alliance.
He was the sword that divided genius from eccentric.
He was oblivious to this great feat, but that was exactly what made him so adorable to them. The Martini Series narrowed their eyes in his direction and then spoke in unison.
“Let’s begin the mission. Let’s charm them with our angelic performance.”
“This is awful.”
Quenser and Heivia wrapped their arms around themselves and shivered in the cold on the flight deck of a small gray aircraft carrier. Their breath was white and the sky was the color of lead. Dull vibrations occasionally ran through the deck because the blade hastily attached to the bow was breaking through some pure white drift ice.
Just to be clear, it was currently mid-July.
They watched two connected icebergs that looked like giant breasts float past the fleet.
“What happened to our summer? For what possible reason were we sent to the tip of the Southern Hemispheeeeerrrrrre!? The seasons are reversed here, so it’s freezing midwinter! There are penguins jumping into the water over there! What happened to my paradise of the Princess and our busty commander in swimsuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuits!?”
“The pamphlet said the average temperature at this time of year is eleven degrees.”
“Like hell it is! Our breath is white! How could it be that far off average!? There’s a giant tits iceberg right over there!!”
“Heivia, it’s your fault for saying you wanted to get out of the heat after that desert. Our higher ups always take things too far.”
“There could have at least been some swimsuits in there somewhere.”
“Sigh. Speaking of swimsuits, Lieutenant Meena was shot. That’s actually a real shock. Both that she was the one behind all that and that I’ll never get to see that great rack that was about as underappreciated as baby’s-breath.”
“Eh? Why do swimsuits make you think of her?”
“What a shock…”
“Hold on! We’re supposed to keep each other informed in this unit, so tell your pal Heivia what happened!!”
Heivia shook Quenser by the shoulders, but Quenser’s soul had half-escaped his mouth and he would not give a proper answer.
Then something else stopped Heivia.
The handheld device in his pocket rang.
“What? Are you using video chat to pretend you’re having phone sex?”
“This is a little classier than that.”
After checking the screen, Heivia walked away from Quenser.
Once he reached the landing on the narrow stairway from the flight deck to the maintenance area directly below, Heivia leaned against the metal railing, touched the screen with his fingertip, and answered the call.
It was not a soldier contacting him.
It was a blonde noble girl in a white dress.
“Took you long enough to answer.”
“I’m not trading stock, so don’t get so upset.”
“Even if it’s over the internet, we still arranged for this date in advance. You’re a disgrace to the title of nobility if you keep a lady waiting, Winchell boy.”
“If you don’t do something about your attitude, you’re going to be in the news for being divorced on your honeymoon, Vanderbilt girl.”
Even if it was a private conversation (in fact, because it was), this conversation over the military line was being monitored. However, the member of the electronic simulation division monitoring the line may have been wide-eyed in shock.
The Winchell family and the Vanderbilt family were two of the biggest noble families in the Legitimacy Kingdom as well as enemies going back centuries. The dark age that had triggered the collapse of the UN had occurred just under one hundred years before, so they had carried the feud of an older age across the end of civilization.
“Well, um, how should I put this?” said Heivia. “Sorry about interrupting your vacation.”
“My, my! That is like work to me, so I don’t mind. I am currently in the middle of the Atlantic – oh, excuse me –enjoying the world’s greatest fireworks festival, so are you having trouble hearing me?”
“No. And you people have to be insane to gather more than five hundred cruise ships and launch fireworks for a full week. Are fireworks even any fun during the day?”
“Oh, dear. Our rocket fireworks reach an altitude of ten thousand meters, you know? I can’t have you thinking the Technopics is the only festival in the Atlantic.”
Heivia nearly said those were normally called surface-to-air missiles or surface-to-surface rockets, but he held his tongue.
“And once night falls, the fireworks and the aurora will create a wonderful collaboration,” she said.
“Where are you right now? It isn’t the Arctic, is it?”
“Ah ha ha. The aurora is created when solar winds reach the ionosphere. Um, I think it’s a large railgun meant to clear debris, but they said something about chemically producing a massive amount of electricity just like a laser known as a COIL.”
“Oh… So instead of firing a huge shell, it uses debris reduced to a sandstorm of metal fragments measured in microns to directly repel the entire ‘field’?”
“Solar winds are streams of plasma and easily influenced by electric and magnetic fields, so that whatever-it’s-called can alter their course to a certain extent. By guiding it to the desired coordinate in the ionosphere, they can create a manmade aurora.”
“Don’t solar winds and the aurora play a role in electromagnetic pulses? Won’t that violate some treaties?”
“It’s okay as long as we aren’t using it for military purposes. It’s the same as X-rays.”
That was truly entertainment for the rich. Although that kind of performance to say “look what we can do” could be seen as a sort of wartime PR.
“So how did things go with the favor I asked of you?” asked Heivia.
“Do you think I can’t accomplish a simple task? Besides, I only had to check through the newspapers and the TV news. That was easier than looking up a fish recipe.”
“I see. I’m awful at that formal stuff, so reading through a week’s worth of newspapers sounds harder than sharpshooting from a thousand meters.”
“If you wish to call yourself my husband, you need to be more cultured.”
“Let’s get back on topic,” insisted Heivia.
The girl on the screen sighed.
“Yes, it was just as you said. There was no article on the Special 15th led by Lieutenant Meena Stinger. Of course, there are wars occurring all over the world every single day, so listing out every last death would fill up the entire paper. Plus, they provide a variety of ‘anesthetic’ to ensure the fear of war does not spread to the safe countries. There was a lot of talk about the surprise visit from that…Blue Rose, was it? Heh heh heh. They may not have had any space left after talking about your little sister so much.”
“Nothing about a drug war either?”
“Hm? Is that something from a movie?”
Heivia silently grimaced when he saw his fiancee’s confused look on the screen.
(No sign of Colorful Vanilla, then. So any news that would disgrace the military as a whole might as well have never happened, is that it? I thought they would at least stick in a cover story that pinned the war crimes on Meena Stinger alone, but they aren’t even showing the lizard’s tail.)
When (supposedly) Quenser had shot the Special 15th as they tried to burn away the ergot containers with white phosphorous, he had used a Capitalist Corporations carbine.
Even when Meena Stinger had been shot in the maintenance base zone, the crushed bullet they had later found was the kind that same faction commonly used for heavy machineguns and anti-materiel rifles.
That meant no further investigation would be done.
There was nothing they could do.
Lieutenant Meena Stinger and her Black Uniform Special Platoon 15 had been killed by enemy soldiers during battle. There was nothing more to say and they were being treated as normal war dead.
That was all.
“If you’re curious, I could look further into it,” suggested the girl on the screen.
“No, knowing what the safe country newspapers and news shows are saying is enough. Besides, what does a civilian know about the military and war?”
“Oh? Nothing is more frightening than the wealthy when they have nothing better to do, you know?”
She bowed with a smile and her image vanished from the screen.
Heivia toyed with the device in his hand for a while and slowly exhaled.
After that, he gave another annoyed comment.
“It’s too clean. Whose plot am I getting involved in here?”
The Cape of Good Hope was the southern tip of Africa.
It was hard to tell on the standard Mercator projection maps, but that area was a quick southward trip over the ocean away from the South Pole. Penguins walked through the streets, so it was not the sweaty land of the blazing sun that people normally pictured when they thought of Africa. Latitude-wise, it was about the same as the Oceanian continent, but it looked more like the kind of rough waves, leaden skies, and rocky land that suited a traditional Island Nation enka song. In terms of the North Wind and the Sun, the north wind was going all out, so no one would ever think of trading their uniform for a swimsuit.
Or so one would have thought.
“Ahhh. It’s so hot in here. I know you’re trying to be hospitable, but don’t you have the heat cranked up too high?”
“Blue Rose, the Island Nation has a saying: oden for the air conditioner and ice cream for the kotatsu. This is truly the best.”
Just one of the small aircraft carrier’s rooms had all its windows fogged up.
In that sweltering heat, Frolaytia Capistrano was providing a mistaken sort of welcome and Azureyfear Winchell was accepting that mistaken sort of welcome. They had traded their uniform or dress for swimsuits and were unnecessarily sweaty.
The plastic pool that Black Uniform Meena Stinger had secretly used in the Rio Grande District was filled with water and the two of them sat in chairs with their seductive feet soaking in the pool. They were clenching and unclenching their toes and topping it all off by sucking on vanilla popsicles.
Quenser had been called here for some reason and he had been struck by a thick wall of feminine aroma the instant he opened the door.
He had reflexively raised his voice.
“You people are awful!! You damn bourgeois are killing the earth in about every way possible!!”
“So you’re finally here, commoner. Come closer. Yes, close enough to touch me.”
“Heh heh heh. How wonderfully obedient. Do you like ladies’ swimsuits that much?”
Blue must have been her favorite color because Azureyfear smiled at Quenser in a blue bikini that glittered like a tropical butterfly.
Frolaytia pulled her popsicle from her mouth and pointed it at the student.
“I may not be one to talk, but she is a powerful noble. And the type who can actually use the Winchell family’s authority. Don’t screw this up.”
“Um, can I ask why you’re calling for me so often today?”
“I’ve taken a liking to you,” said the young lady in a blue swimsuit. “Yes, this visit is something of a performance, but if I’m going to be shown around by someone, I’d like it to be someone I have some slight connection to. I heard what you did. You fought well against those Black Uniforms involved in the drug war in the Rio Grande District.”
“Eh? But that was-…”
Confused, Quenser spoke on reflex, but then a sweet flavor filled his mouth.
Azureyfear had stuck the tip of her popsicle in his mouth.
While he was unable to speak, vanilla-flavored lips moved from extreme close range.
They mouthed the word “no”.
“Commoner, if you are to be my guide, I would like to know what kind of person you are. As a test, find an online video that can amuse me.”
“Um, eh? Okay, but…”
“Look at this cleavage. I’ll even squeeze my breasts together and give you an upturned look. Do you also want me to put the popsicle in my mouth and faffefaafafhfhefh?”
“Woof woof woof woof!!”
There seemed to be a difference in understanding concerning the previous incident, but the idiot decided to set those issues aside and take advantage of this opportunity.
He began his first mission with his handheld device in hand.
“Wh-what about a kitten chasing a laser pointer on the wall?”
“This is the silver snowscape from the peak of Mont Blanc.”
“What’s the point if you don’t conquer the mountain yourself? I climb Mont Blanc twice a year. You need physical strength and knowledge of nature to hunt well, after all.”
“Kh!! …Since it’s come to this, I’ll break out this video showing a breakdown of a chronometer. Look at all these gears! It’s controlled by springs and gears instead of electronics, so just think of the accuracy needed in the mechanic’s fingertips to…pant, pant…make this a reality…uuhhhh!!”
“Calm down, tech nerd. Are you one of those people that would prefer I step on them?”
Quenser thought the exasperated look in Azureyfear’s eyes would crush his soul. Out of ideas, his fingertip accidentally touched the banner for trending news near the search box.
The small screen filled with a greasy middle-aged man’s face. A stand was covered in microphones and cameras flashed like machinegun fire. A female newscaster spoke over the footage of some sort of press conference.
“As a royal and a member of the royal council, First Prince Flag Eggnog’s words gather international attention. This was a portion of the standard press conference after the council session ended the other day.”
“As I have been saying, drug wars only exist in spy movies. Besides, this nonsense is likely only being spread by the weak-willed youth. The addicts who cannot stop abusing Colorful Vanilla must be clinging to conspiracy theories that blame their problems on the military and government.”
“Many groups and individuals have fiercely opposed this statement, including the Legitimacy Kingdom Academics of General Medicine and the White Knights of Women’s Rights. They claim the prince’s statement is inconsistent with the medical facts of Colorful Vanilla’s spread and addiction and they ask whether he is forgetting about the victims who have been forced to use these illegal drugs due to their surroundings. These groups are filling the road in front of the safe country royal palace with various protest signs in hand.”
“If you can say those insane things with a straight face, we can’t let you lead our country!!”
“The royal family needs to kick that bastard out right away!!”
“I’m bored, so I want to cause a scene!!”
Quenser found the festival of anger to be a horrifying scene.
“French fries! Does anyone need some French fries!? Damn I’m going to make a killing out here!!”
“Wait, you idiot! Put the mustard mayonnaise on your own fries! Ahhh! They’re absolutely covered!!”
He doubted any of the news videos could move the heart of a bored noble girl, but…
“Heh heh heh. Ah ha ha!!”
“You’re completely carefree!? I know they say teenage girls find anything funny, but really!?”
“No, no, no. Quenser, you have quite the sense of humor. To nobles like us, the misfortune of others is like the most exquisite honey. Isn’t that right, Major Capistrano?”
“Ahem… I would prefer not to answer that.”
Frolaytia cleared her throat to hold in the laughter, so this was apparently not just Azureyfear’s personal tastes. It did not really make sense to Commoner Quenser.
“Sigh. It must be tough being a royal. He was definitely careless, but any man his age probably says stuff like that with a mug of beer in hand.”
“This is noblesse oblige. Authority brings responsibility. The greater authority of a noble or royal brings just as great responsibility with it. If a royal acts like a gossiping commoner at a press conference, it’s obvious what will happen.”
At any rate, he had cleared his first mission of amusing her. In her blue bikini that glittered like a tropical butterfly, Azureyfear slowly lifted her small butt from her chair.
“Major Capistrano, may I borrow him for a moment?”
“Yes. But…ehhh!? You’re going out dressed like that!?”
“I have completely boiled, so I could stand to feel the chilly wind for a bit. Quenser, bring that bath towel with you.”
With that said, she really did move to the heater-filled room’s door in her swimsuit. Quenser looked back and forth between Azureyfear and Frolaytia, but his commander only shrugged in her swimsuit. She was apparently ordering him to obey the selfish noble girl.
When they left the room, Quenser was a little chilly even in his uniform.
Much like after leaving a sauna, Azureyfear looked comfortable even in her blue bikini. She raised her hands, bent backwards, and let the chilly air wash over all of her skin.
Quenser asked the main question on his mind.
“Um, about before…”
“Oh, you mean in the sunflower field?”
She did not seem to care much.
She even shrugged while mentioning the sniping attack on the Blue Uniforms at the desert oasis.
“That is simple. The Winchell family is not permitted to hunt humans.”
“No one is!!”
The idiot leaned forward without thinking and the noble girl’s cleavage filled his vision.
She was incredibly cute, but he was not sure what to do when she had the same blood as Heivia. Or rather, that guy’s unwelcome face flashed through his mind and he could not concentrate.
“So it would be convenient if you took the credit for those kills as you were the one to pick up a Capitalist Corporations gun. What must be done and one’s reputation are very different things, especially in noble society. Well, try not to think about it too much, commoner. I suggest you take the credit for saving your unit. More importantly…”
Azureyfear rotated her raised arms behind her back, bent her hips forward, and peered up at him from below.
“I would like to hear about my brother. You are closer to him than anyone, aren’t you?”
“…So that’s it.”
“You look like you want to know why I would not meet him directly when we are brother and sister. I can almost sense the warm image commoners have of family. …But that concept is meaningless among nobles who are constantly in conflict with their own flesh and blood.”
“But if you want to know about it, you must not be completely divided.”
“I can’t tell you how he feels about it, though. Besides, he is something of a heretic when it comes to the Winchell family. When someone is hated by their surroundings, they will in turn hate their surroundings. It’s a sort of defensive measure.”
“Well…I’ll admit he isn’t your stereotypical noble.”
Quenser did not quite understand and Azureyfear laughed. She seemed to like that he could not imagine what it was like to be in conflict with his own flesh and blood.
It was the proof that he had a truly happy relationship with his family.
“Quenser, my bath towel.”
“So it was only a short luxury, huh?”
He held it out and she draped it over her shoulders like a cape to keep some of her warmth.
“Then again, Heivia’s Heivia. It would be heard to find something that’s different from normal. In fact, I can’t imagine his condition would change much even if he ate a rotten egg he found on the side of the road.”
“Oh, my. He must really be spreading his wings here.”
Quenser wondered if the boy had been different in his safe country mansion, but he had difficulty picturing Heivia Winchell during peacetime.
“Is he receiving letters or telegrams with any frequency?”
“I’m not some kind of Echelon Quenser who monitors all of his communications, but he gets calls and emails. It’s monitored by the military server, but everyone here at least plays an online golf game.”
Then Quenser remembered something.
“But I do see him messing with his handheld device a lot lately.”
“I asked if he was pretending to have phone sex, but he denied it. I wonder if he was telling the truth.”
Azureyfear elegantly brought a hand to her mouth and her eyes sparkled for some reason.
She may have just had too much time on her hands.
“Then he must have a hotline to the Vanderbilt family after all… No, there is no reason to let this get to me… I already knew he had a relationship with our sworn enemy… That is just the kind of person he is…”
Quenser tilted his head as the noble girl faced the wall and muttered something under her breath.
Then an irregular tremor ran down her spine. She rubbed together her pale thighs, fully wrapped the bath towel around her body, and glanced awkwardly toward Quenser.
“I have cooled down a fair bit. Thank you for the amusing chat, commoner. I need to visit the powder room, so return to your normal post.”
“So nobles really call it the powder room…”
“Do not even think about asking too much about this.”
“Our mission today is to eliminate a negative campaign being run by the Information Alliance.”
In the briefing room, Frolaytia began her briefing (having changed into her usual uniform).
A map of Africa was displayed on the white wall behind her and a red dot had been added to the cape at the southern tip.
“As you know, the Cape of Good Hope is a crucial marine transportation point. With instability in the Mediterranean and Suez due to a conflict between the Legitimacy Kingdom and the Faith Organization, tankers are using the safer but longer route around Africa and through the Cape of Good Hope. That means having an Object sitting there is a major problem.”
“And some idiot’s done that?” asked Heivia.
Frolaytia hit a button on the remote, the projector emitted a mechanical whir, and the map zoomed in on the Cape of Good Hope.
“It’s an Information Alliance Second Generation named Spectre Q&A. It’s an amphibious air cushion model with a laser beam main cannon that uses a dye laser. But the specs can come later.”
She used the remote again and a completely different map appeared.
It was of the Arctic at the very top of the Northern Hemisphere.
“Since the Arctic ice has begun to melt due to global warming, a new sea route is appearing: the Arctic route. The Information Alliance is actively pushing for the opening of that route, so they must want to force everyone to rely on it by blocking the Suez and Cape of Good Hope routes.”
“So they want to harass everyone at the Cape of Good Hope and stop all the tankers and cruise ships to gather attention?” Quenser sounded disgusted. “Are they grade schoolers?”
“But this is no laughing matter.”
Frolaytia hit another button and a few photographs appeared.
They were of the ocean around the Cape of Good Hope.
“The south” brought warm images to Quenser’s mind, but this was the extreme south of the continent. It was also midwinter due to the reversed seasons of this hemisphere, so there was drift ice everywhere. In fact, some areas were completely covered with thick white ice.
“No matter how bizarre the weather here, the formation of the ice is apparently meteorologically impossible. The odds are good the Information Alliance is using some kind of meteorological weapon. So without a truly large icebreaker, no one can cross this thick layer of ice. To be blunt, even this aircraft carrier fleet we borrowed won’t cut it. Our makeshift icebreaking blade can only do so much, so we can only get so close. I’d rather not meet the same fate as the Titanic out here.”
“Hey, wait. Then…”
“That’s right, Quenser. This battle is mostly a naval one, but there are also several layers of thick ice all around here. The Princess uses static electricity which requires attaching or removing a float when switching between land and sea. But I don’t want the Spectre Q&A noticing that and targeting the ground below her. I don’t even want to think about that two hundred thousand ton mass sinking to the bottom of the ocean.”
“Then the Princess will be doing this with the naval float attached?”
“Precisely. But that makes things difficult for us. Footwork is everything in battles between Objects. Particularly in the Spectre Q&A’s case since it’s laser beam main cannon will require quick movement. And yet the Princess will be restricted by the need to break the ice. That will increase the resistance and slow her down. If she gets careless, she could play right into their hands.”
The Spectre Q&A was an amphibious air cushion model. They had not been shown the specs yet, but it may have been able to freely move between the ocean and the ice. If it did not need to break the ice, it would have nimbler footwork.
“As a side note, as the name Spectre Q&A suggests, it is a Second Generation that specializes in optical sample analysis. Quenser, as a battlefield student, I assume you’re familiar with femtosecond optics, the world of one quadrillionth of a second.”
“Well, yes. But…you can’t possibly mean…!!”
“That’s just one of its Swiss army knife of options. An atom’s oscillation lasts from a few dozen to a few hundred femtoseconds, but a pulse laser of only a few femtoseconds is even shorter. That special light can isolate and record the movements of atoms like movie film and then analyze the footage frame by frame. Simply put, the chemical changes are stripped bare in their microscopic states. Even if you mix yourself an original drink at the soda fountain, it can probably break down each of the components and list them in order. And even more accurately than the person who mixed it.”
Quenser gulped, but Heivia had not understood any of that. The difference was so stark it was almost sad, but Frolaytia continued regardless.
“This Swiss army knife was probably originally designed to extract and analyze the makeup of fragments of the enemy Object’s armor, the static electricity repellant floating in the air, or the special gas for low-stability plasma cannons. That way they can find an effective means of attack.”
“We’re getting back to that drug war. The various ‘products’ may seem the same, but there are differences depending on where they were made. You could call it the drug’s ‘fingerprint’. A detailed examination of the impurities introduced in the refinement process would show slightly differing signatures even in the same sort of drug. For example, the impurities will differ depending on whether a certain ingredient was obtained by soaking commercial cold medicine in alcohol or if it was grown as a plant. By combining all those differences, a unique signature for a manufacturer will appear. Colorful Vanilla has a cloyingly sweet smell from the vanillin-like impurity it gains during creation, so it’s worth looking into a little more.”
Frolaytia spun the remote in her hand.
“We found the ergots used to make Colorful Vanilla in that crashed plane in the Rio Grande District. Out of the seventy-five drugs circulating through the Capitalist Corporations, the intelligence division has acquired samples of the Colorful Vanilla that has increased so dramatically recently. If we could use the Spectre Q&A’s optical sample analysis, we could determine just how it’s made. By the way, the Spectre Q&A’s Pilot Elite has a PhD in pharmaceutics and physiology and is suspected to have created a few different designer drugs in the past. A designer drug is one with the original chemical structure changed slightly to slip past drug tests like a variation of a computer virus. But it doesn’t seem they’re targeting safe countries in a drug war. Their MO seems to be using the internet to send the recipe to the worn-down soldiers in the enemy maintenance base zone and triggering a moral hazard there. But either way, nothing good can come from the spread of funny-smelling cigarettes or sodas that make you feel a little too happy.”
In other words, the ergots made in the Legitimacy Kingdom were being made into drugs in the Information Alliance and the completed Colorful Vanilla was being sent to their common enemy, the Capitalist Corporations. It was a little confusing and it made one wonder how much any single part of the process knew about the whole.
“It looks like the drug war run by Black Uniform Special Platoon 15 was just one gear in the giant contraption that is the Legitimacy Kingdom. In other words, there is still a mastermind behind all this. It hurts that Meena Stinger was killed before she could say who, but we’ve found another line back to them here. If we can get to the Spectre Q&A’s Pilot Elite or get the necessary data out of the Object itself which doubles as an optical sample analysis lab, we might be able to uncover the mastermind hiding in the Legitimacy Kingdom. We can’t ignore someone who seems to think they’re a chess master as they infect both battlefield countries and safe countries. We will find the clue we need here and settle this. That is all.”
Any maintenance base tended to be full of motion just before a mission.
The naval base made of a fleet built around several small aircraft carriers was no exception. Quenser, Heivia, and many other soldiers were rushing through the ship’s narrow corridors. They were all preparing cold weather gear and small boats. Basically, they were scrambling for the most well-maintained gear. Getting the short end of the stick would mean being thrown out in the midwinter ocean with only a coat that had a big hole on the butt.
“This is just plain awful! Isn’t this a one-on-one between giant Objects? Why is that busty commander sending worthless soldiers to the front line? What possible reason is there? She isn’t just using up a quota like road construction at the end of the fiscal year, is she!?”
“I want to be on the battlefield even if I don’t have to. There’s no point in being a battlefield student otherwise.”
“It’s because of idiots like you that war will never end!”
“What movie do you have a hard-on for now? Some Capitalist Corporations anti-war film?”
Of course, the two idiots were not the only ones running around.
Men and women, old and young, were desperately grabbing for the newest gear. If he was going to be crushed in the middle of a crowd, Quenser decided he would make the most of it and charged right into an area with a high concentration of female soldiers, but then he noticed a different voice in the mix.
“Marie, I swear I’ll come back to you. Wells, take care of your mother while I’m gone.”
“Hey, Kevin, let’s not get all melancholy while staring at a picture before heading out to the battlefield!”
“Oh, Quenser. Hello. But don’t worry. I’m not about to lose here. Once this battle is over, I promised to put in for some leave and take my family to an amusement park. Eh heh heh.”
“Kevin, you idiot! What kind of setup is this!?”
As he began that fruitless argument, another voice cut in.
It was the previous Blue Rose, but she was not in her previous blue swimsuit. She instead wore her previous blue dress with. She had her arms crossed as she leaned against the wall to stay out of the way of the soldiers rushing around.
But unfortunately, she did not have a large enough chest to lift up the way Frolaytia did.
When Quenser came to a stop, he was immediately driven out of the race for the best gear. Even gloomy Kevin left, but that was hardly surprising when staying still was a lot like fighting an even greater current than a salmon swimming upstream.
But even before Quenser, Heivia looked over to her and their gazes met.
The siblings barely spoke.
Heivia clicked his tongue irritably and left the unwelcome family member to continue preparing for battle. The look on his face made it clear her very presence was a problem, not just anything she would say or do.
Azureyfear Winchell left the wall and approached the student who had been left behind. When her sudden approach brought her face right in front of his nose, Quenser lost his nerve.
She whispered to him so no one else could hear.
“Take care of my brother, will you? I can only watch from here, after all.”
“So you are worried for him,” he muttered in annoyance.
What was even the point of her surprise visit? If it was for foreign negotiations or a performance for the press, she would not have stayed for the move from Central America to southern Africa. It was possible she was using the status of her family to disguise the fact that she was simply checking in on her family member.
“Listen, noble girl. He wouldn’t die even if a shell blew up right next to him. After all, he doesn’t have an ounce of pride, so he’ll immediately curl up and reduce the odds of being hit. Did you know the rate of death from a shell explosion drops from eighty to fifty percent depending on whether they’re standing up or down on the ground? In other words, there’s statistical backing for his endurance, so don’t worry.”
He sighed and gave that arbitrary comment, but then he felt a soft sensation and a faint rosy scent on his right cheek.
After pulling her head back, Azureyfear placed her index finger on her lips and peered up at him from below.
“If you bring my brother back safely, I’ll do the same thing on the other side.”
“If you have time to stand around, then get moving. You take care of things where I can’t go, Quenser.”
With that said, the girl in a blue dress spun around and left.
For once, Quenser was left behind with a hand on his cheek.
“Oh, you’re finally here, tech nerd. It was like a fight for soba bread at the school cafeteria, but I snagged us a high-tech boat. Hurry up and help me fold this-…bgyah!?”
As soon as the noble boy faced his awful friend, a fist slammed into his nose.
“What!? Wait. What the hell was that for!?”
“I guess it doesn’t matter, but take care of your sister, you spoiled bastard.”
The Princess puffed out her cheeks while sitting on the very top of the Baby Magnum’s spherical body.
The 37th Mobile Maintenance Battalion’s prized weapon was currently held between two small aircraft carriers by hundreds of wires as it underwent maintenance, but this meant the Princess had to wait and thus had nothing to do.
Rather than doing any direct work, the old maintenance lady was using a tablet to manage the maintenance as a whole and give instructions, so she spoke to the Princess while operating the touchscreen.
In the modern age of clean wears which were entirely focused on Objects, the mental state and conditioning of a single individual could lead to serious problems for everyone.
“Does it bother you?”
“I feel like Quenser has been neglecting his studies lately. He isn’t coming to see the Baby Magnum.”
The old lady gave an exasperated sigh.
This was a matter of impressions, not statistical data. A greedy commoner hoping to strike it rich would never overlook a treasure trove like this.
However, there was a reason for the Princess’s inaccurate “impression”. Arguing back with accurate data was not going to convince her and the old lady was used to dealing with her, so she continued the conversation in search of another angle to use.
“It’s an issue of frequency. He sees the Baby Magnum all the time, but he only gets to see the enemy Object once. A new Object might seem more important to him because it holds fresh new surprises.”
“Boo. So I’m the boring girl he can see any time he wants?”
“Honestly, who do you see as your enemy here? The Spectre Q&A or the Blue Rose of Winchell?”
Only then did the Princess realize her mistake, so she began waving her hands around.
“No. I was being serious here.”
“Who ever said love isn’t serious? And since bloodline comes first in the Legitimacy Kingdom, you could call it the foundation of society.”
The Princess completely overheated. She seemed to be at a complete loss as to what to say. They could not have her getting a fever like a child too excited about an upcoming field trip, so the old lady intentionally changed the subject.
“It may not be our place to talk since it’s Objects that put food on our table, but weapons development is a sinful business. Meteorological weapons in particular make me think that.”
“You mean the ice?”
The Princess stared into the distance where the horizon was dyed white. The scale made it hard to tell, but the thick ice had to have covered kilometers of the ocean. The fleet built around small aircraft carriers could not cross it, so normal tankers and cruise ships could easily sink after colliding with it.
That unnatural ice blocked off the sea.
As the old maintenance lady operated her tablet, it looked less like she was maintaining weapons and more like she was using big data to optimize inventory work at a large drug store.
There was a reason for that.
“That’s why you’ve been checking over the secondary cannons so carefully, isn’t it? This is a fight between Objects, so anti-personnel and anti-vehicle weapons would be meaningless.”
“You were planning to do that from the beginning, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” the Princess readily admitted. “Why would I just break through the ice like normal? I don’t need to fight on their turf if I don’t want to.”
The Cape of Good Hope was stormy.
The tall waves of the ocean were gray, as if they had absorbed the color of the cloudy sky. The worker ants of the Legitimacy Kingdom advanced using the electric motors of their rubber boats and they quickly ran across some white “mines”. In other words, drift ice. At first, they were the size of a stone one could carry with both arms, but they soon grew to the size of bathtubs and finally a noble’s mansion.
“Damn, it’s that tits iceberg from before. Kevin, watch where we’re headed! I’m not about to crash into that thing and sink.”
“Wow, they’re covered in penguins. Do you think they and the ice came all the way from Antarctica?”
“They might just be taking a vacation in this area.”
There were about ten people per boat. The middle-aged man named Kevin was pointing his handheld device’s lens around taking photos.
“What are you doing, Kevin? If you’re analyzing the ice, could you share that data?”
“Sorry, Quenser, but I’m taking pictures of the drift ice. My son Wells absolutely loves penguins, so he’s sure to love this.”
“Hey, you aren’t summoning the grim reaper and getting us caught in the crossfire, are you?”
The ratio of ocean to ice gradually reversed and they found themselves sailing through rivers or valleys in the gaps between the ice. Eventually, there was no excess space and they had trouble getting the boats any further.
A white wall over a meter tall waited ahead of them. If it stuck up that far from the water, they could not even imagine how far it spread beneath.
“This ice really is weird,” said Quenser as he stroked its surface through his thick glove. “It’s like one meter dice were packed together like chocolate crunch. That gives it a lot of handholds though, so we shouldn’t have any trouble climbing up it.”
However, the student did not hear any of the usual complaints from his awful friend, so he sighed.
“Are you still in a bad mood, you gloomy noble?”
“A pat on the nose from some skinny SOB isn’t about to deter the Great Heivia. But I still can’t believe you would take Azureyfear’s side and treat me like a villain when you have no idea what’s going on there. Being a beautiful girl must be nice. A single teary look and you can overturn any law!”
Quenser looked like someone who had just noticed a pile of old newspapers after the recycling truck drove by, middle-aged Kevin looked nervous, and Heivia raised his voice because he could not stand the annoying “pressure” bearing down on him.
“Fine, fine! I’ll admit it. I may not know where exactly Azureyfear falls in my list of sisters, but I do know her!! She was pretty cute when she was a kid, but that completely changed after I started dating Lady Vanderbilt. It turned out she didn’t have a personality of her own and she was only following the program placed in her head by the Winchell family. She was completely done in by her noble blood.”
“So you started having trouble with your cute little sister because of your girlfriend? Do you want me to punch you again, you spoiled bastard?”
Seeing a boy pout his lips and sulk was only creepy. Quenser dealt with him and turned back to the rough ice wall again. The rocking rubber boat made for unsteady footing, but since it was higher than the ocean’s surface, the meter tall ice was between waist and chest height when he stood up.
Everyone on the boat crawled up onto the ice land where they found a different world covered in a flat plain of pure white. The ice literally continued to the horizon. It may have been bigger than a small megafloat airport.
“This iceberg is practically an ice shelf. It’s like a continent.”
“Quenser, I know your eyes only know how to stare at girl’s asses, so quit pretending to appreciate the scenery and help me with this work.”
“You get so hesitant, complain-y, and just an all-around pain-in-the-ass when it comes to your family. Are you in a rebellious phase or are you a kid with his parents at school for parent’s day? The problem is that you actually think it makes you look cool.”
They used the synthetic fiber rope prepared in the boat to pull the boat up from the ocean. Then the ten-person boat visibly changed form. The air inflating the balloon was released, the umbrella-like framework bent like an arm, and the alloy armor opened up. In less than twenty seconds, it had become a rectangular suitcase-sized mass. It had treads and looked like a miniature snowmobile or tank.
Kevin used his handheld device, but not to take photos of the penguins this time. He seemed to be controlling the miniature.
“It’s called an Armadillo. It normally follows along automatically to analyze images and monitor the situation, but it still needs some human help. Although that makes it kind of cute.”
Quenser scratched his head while listening to the middle-aged man.
“Will this thing really help?”
“We have a lot to carry this time, so a robot should come in handy.”
There was not much infantry could do in a battle between Objects.
The mission these idiots had “gladly” received from Frolaytia was to take samples of and analyze the makeup of the unnatural ice as well as scattering decoy armor and shell fragments to interfere with the Spectre Q&A’s analysis work.
That meant carrying back containers of the ice they had carved off as well as carrying around some amount of trap fragments to spread across the wide range of the battlefield.
“Yeah, this is a pretty unwieldy job.”
“Ah ha ha. Well, it’s still better than going out for a firefight with other human beings.”
They did not know when, where, or how the Spectre Q&A would take its samples, so they could only place the fragments at evenly spaced intervals as if aligning them on graph paper. They had to carry around the equipment and measure everything out, so the robot was a lot of help.
“Come to think of it, they sent bull robots after us in the Rio Grande District. Everyone’s developing this kind of thing, aren’t they?”
“I would think this style makes more sense than adding legs. I’d heard whispers that the infantry is starting to need power station vehicles for all their electronic equipment. Having your soldiers worried about their phone battery would be pretty sad, after all.”
In his own stupid way, Heivia must have realized that his bad mood was not very productive because he casually replied.
“Basically it’s a durable caddy. It’s got power, water, food, and even that boat we were using. There’s more of a demand for these indirect weapons that don’t help fight but carry the equipment needed to maintain the front line. It can be used to block bullets in a pinch, but the electronic simulation division’s calculations didn’t recommend it. They said the gunfire could trigger a spark explosion in the transformer and we’d be caught in the blast.”
“Eh heh heh. Isn’t it cute? It reminds me of a cleaning robot. When we would run ours back home, Wells would chase after it.”
“Hey, you might be missing your family, but don’t draw a face on it with permanent ink. It’s military property.”
That said, they would not need to use it to block bullets.
Their enemy was not infantry with assault rifles or handguns.
The pure white land underwent a great change. An unbelievably large crack ran through the icy surface that continued to the horizon. Seen from a satellite, it may have looked like a pane of glass after it was stabbed with the tip of an umbrella, but it looked like a giant valley to those on the scene. The rocking of the waves caused an even greater height difference between the two sides of the fault.
“Here she is,” spat out Heivia. “That was our Princess.”
The icy land seemed to be made from one meter dice packed together like extra-large chocolate crunch and a giant form crashed into it with its naval float still attached. It was the Baby Magnum with its seven main cannons and reverse Y-shaped support.
And if the Princess was here, then the other Object would be somewhere nearby too.
The Information Alliance Second Generation was known as the Spectre Q&A.
It was an amphibious air cushion Object, so it smoothly slipped up onto the flat-looking ice in the distance. It looked like a fusion between a spider and a crab. It was supported by four long, narrow legs and it had four pincer-like arms on the front. The surface of the pincers was likely covered with vacuum cleaner-like suction devices. Those would collect the armor panel fragments or low-stability plasma cannon gas floating in the air, find their weak points with its optical sample analysis, and construct its tactics based on that.
This battle was one-on-one, so it was obvious what would happen next.
“Quenser, Heivia, and everyone else. Be on your guard.”
The Princess warned them over the radio.
Immediately afterwards, a frighteningly indiscriminate bombardment began.
They did not begin with their main cannons.
Instead, it was the many secondary cannons covering the spherical bodies like a sea urchin or chestnut burr that moved first. The Princess did not bother breaking the ice with her icebreaking blade. She started by firing metal railgun and coilgun shells to break the white scenery into countless blocks and then fired laser beams and low-stability plasma cannons to instantly vaporize the blocks. She advanced while turning the field ahead of her into the ocean and water she needed for her naval floats.
Quenser and the others had no choice but to watch.
But they did not have a chance to just calmly watch as the Baby Magnum and the Spectre Q&A exchanged fire with their low-stability plasma cannon and laser beam main cannons.
There was a white explosion near the surface.
The dangerous drift ice could have opened a hole in the side of a cruise ship, but the intense heat had forced it to flash vaporize, triggering an explosion of water vapor. But by the time they realized that, a white wall several kilometers long was approaching the soldiers with intense pressure.
They got down on the ground. Quenser and Heivia both got down, realized they had nothing to grab onto, and got chummy with the suitcase-sized Armadillo power vehicle made from folding up the rubber boat. The white wall struck a moment later. The beads of ice stung their cheeks. Their vision was as poor as in a sandstorm and Quenser saw a large silhouette flying by at greater than his height. Rather than a UFO, it was a poor Legitimacy Kingdom soldier who had not been blessed with anything to grab onto.
“I told you! This is what happens when you carry a picture of your family around on the battlefield, you idiot!!”
“We can’t investigate the ice or scatter fragments like this. What do we do!?”
“Shut up! Just focus on surviving, skinny boy! At this rate, they’ll grab our corpses and use their optical sample analysis to reveal the locations of every last mole and erogenous zone on our bodies!!”
Next, they heard yet another explosion like a balloon popping.
The Princess was not using these water vapor explosions to damage the enemy Object. They were simply meant to destroy the endless obstacles getting in her way, so these white walls would reach the soldiers again and again.
“You’re kidding! You have got to be kidding! Let’s head back to the crack in the ice shelf. If we stay up here, we’ll be just like a line of ants being sprayed with a hose!!”
“When the land is shaking this much!? The chunks of ice are rocking in the waves, so if we climb between them, we’ll be crushed by a giant mouth!!”
An icy South African wind blew through.
It quickly washed away the water vapor and the scenery opened up once more.
Quenser felt like he was seeing something he should not be.
A giant mushroom cloud covered a radius of one hundred meters. It looked like a scene from some old footage.
That too may have been a massive water vapor explosion and Heivia’s eyes widened as he shouted out.
“I don’t think the weather can get any more bizarre than this!!”
They did not have time to stick around.
They were assaulted by intense pressure, like an invisible giant’s hand was sweeping them away. This time, they were pulled up into the air. There were not given a choice in the matter and tossed right into the nearby canyon-like crack.
They plunged into the gray sea.
The Armadillo had fallen with them, so it opened on its own and instantly filled with air to form a rubber boat.
The seemingly depthless water squeezed at their hearts, so they frantically swam for the surface and grabbed at the boat. But then they noticed someone else with them.
It was Kevin.
He seemed to have fallen into the crack ahead of them.
“Cough, cough! A-are you two okay? L-let me grab on too.”
“Kevin, grab on here. That was the Princess. Our life insurance only pays out if the enemy shoots us, so you’ll lose big if you let that kill you.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’m not going to die. My son Wells gave me a good luck charm to ward off bullets. Dying here would mean rejecting his efforts and I’m not about to have him feeling down.”
“Ahhhh!! Someone please stop this guy from calling in any more bad luck!!”
Even soldiers decked out with cutting-edge equipment were superstitious. The two idiots covered the man’s mouth so he could not do anymore to summon an unknown grim reaper.
“I don’t care anymore! Why are we even out here again!?”
“There is a lot we need to do. Let’s review, Heivia. We’re supposed to get the Spectre Q&A to gather decoy materials so it performs an erroneous optical sample analysis and we’re supposed to gather samples from this unnatural ice. If we know the system behind its solidification, we might be able to use a chemical to instantly melt it.”
“Leave all that to the Princess! With all that firepower, what does a little ice matter? If she wanted, couldn’t she fire some plasma into the South Pole to wipe out all of mankind?”
“No, not necessarily.”
Quenser climbed onto the Armadillo boat, stood up, and observed the battlefield like a pervert peeping over the fence of the girl’s bath.
Kevin asked a hesitant question.
“Wh-what is it, Quenser?”
“She’s melting the ice before she moves. That means her route is visible in advance, so the Spectre Q&A can predict the Princess’s next move. Nimble footwork is everything in an Object battle. It can predict where she’ll be one second later and fire its laser main cannon there.”
“Then what do we do?”
“What we were sent out here to do: search for a way of melting these mountains of ice without relying on the Princess. If we can get rid of all this unnatural ice, we can overturn the Information Alliance’s advan-…”
Quenser trailed off and looked down at his soaking wet uniform. Then he looked to his surroundings: Heivia and Kevin who were still submerged in the water and clinging to the Armadillo boat, the gray sea, and the ice wall made from unnatural dice packed together.
“This is strange.”
“Dammit, did my assumptions about the winter sea and this waterproof and cold-resistant equipment get the better of me? They did, didn’t they!? This isn’t right at all!!”
Heivia looked at his awful friend in confusion because Quenser removed his glove and stuck his hand in the seawater.
“And even if she’d been in a sauna, it was strange that Azureyfear could walk around the ship in only a swimsuit.”
“That pervert! Is my sister the type that says she can only sleep in the nude!?”
“It’s also strange that you two can soak in that seawater while only looking chilly and that my uniform didn’t freeze after I climbed up into this biting wind! And to top it all off, there’s this!!”
Quenser slapped the water’s surface from the boat.
“This water isn’t cold.”
“Eh? Eh?” asked Kevin. “What do you mean, Quenser?”
“It’s just your average seawater. This isn’t anywhere near the midwinter environment you need for it to freeze! That’s right. If this was cold enough to create an Antarctic-style ice shelf, we probably would have died a few minutes after falling into the seawater. The average temperature for the southernmost part of Africa is eleven degrees. It just isn’t the right environment for ice to form naturally!!”
Heivia and Kevin skeptically removed a glove and checked for themselves.
The idiot was right.
They did not feel the piercing cold of icy water. They felt the lukewarm temperature of water left sitting in a cup.
“Wait. Wait, wait. So what? This ice drifted here from Antarctica, right? Then it isn’t that strange that these giant icebergs are floating in normal seawater, is it?”
“One meter dice of ice were packed together into this giant ice shelf. It’s clearly manmade. And there’s no sign of the corners melting and rounding off. It wouldn’t look like this if it had been left in normal seawater for long periods of time.”
“Then what is it?”
“You’ll understand if you carve off a piece with a knife and taste it. While the surface has been exposed to the sea wind, the inside won’t taste salty. The trick to creating ice that won’t melt is to reduce the impurities. If this is a meteorological weapon, they’ll have used a filter or a centrifuge to remove the salt, dead plankton, and the like.”
“Wait a second. Then…you’re kidding, right!?”
“It’s making the ice here. Right here and now. No one else is supporting it.”
Quenser really did carve off a piece of ice with a knife, stuck it in a thermos, and continued chatting.
“And it’s made enough to create this white land that reaches the horizon. This is history’s greatest obstacle. Not even a tanker full of the polymer used for diapers could build a wall like this. If you’ve got to obey conservation of mass, it’s best to use the seawater that you’ve got a near unlimited supply of.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Then let me ask you something. How much coolant would they need to create a new continent for the planet? Are they using Freon, liquid nitrogen, or liquid helium? Whatever it is, they’re violating entropy or whatever! It would never work out. Even refrigerators and freezers need more than a ton of electricity. You need some kind of coolant and you can only cool as much as the coolant’s specs allow for!”
The student thought for a bit on his awful friend’s objection.
“No, it may not be cooling the water at all.”
“So…what? Are they using some kind of magical device from the future?”
“There isn’t a rule that says water only freezes after being cooled down to 0 degrees. Melting points and boiling points vary depending on the environment.”
“Yeah, the fact that cup ramen tastes worse when made in the Andes shows up on quiz shows a lot. Marie loves those shows, but Wells always pouts his lips when she doesn’t let him change the channel.”
“You can tell us more about your wife and kid later. Those cup noodles are what matter now. That’s because the boiling point for the water changes due to the difference in atmospheric pressure. Ice is the same. Apply pressure and the temperature at which it freezes will change.”
“What? So are we supposed to look at this in reverse? Like dig down 4000 meters below the ground?”
“No, normal water turns to ice at around 7000 atmospheres of pressure. There’s a professor at my safe country school that was always doing experiments related to that. Something about creating a holy bullet by making water molecules act like metal molecules.”
“Seven thousand!? How are they supposed to do that, you idiot!? That’s just unrealistic. This isn’t a micro-level lab. It’s the macro-level battlefield!”
“Oh, really? Objects are two hundred thousand tons. That’s twice the weight of old aircraft carriers. It could easily supply that pressure by creating a press that focuses its weight on a single point like stepping down with some high heels. Take those four legs for example.”
Kevin groaned, either at the crazy ideas Quenser could come up with or at the extraordinary specs of the enemy Object. Water froze at zero degrees. He never would have reached this point without first questioning that standard assumption.
Meanwhile, the student continued like normal.
“There’s also a paper on applying one million volts of electricity to a meter cube of pure water to solidify it into ice. The Object’s reactor can supply that, so that might act as a secondary method.”
The student placed the thermos in the rubber boat’s holder. When the boat folded up to the size of a suitcase, it would be safely stored inside the Armadillo.
“Anyway, it doesn’t need a ton of coolant that way, so it can ignore that limit. Whether it uses pressure or electricity, it can indefinitely produce ice without turning the entire Object into a giant freezer.”
Heivia and Kevin fell silent for a while.
Those conditions brought a troublesome problem to the surface.
“You understand, don’t you? The Spectre Q&A isn’t working with some other unit. It can create all this ice and block off the sea all on its own. No matter how much ice the Princess melts, it can fill the gaps back up. She’ll be a bird in a cage the entire time.”
“This is no joke. So we’ll be getting slapped around by our own Object the whole time!? Even those water vapor explosions will kill us eventually!!”
“About those water vapor explosions,” cut in Quenser. “Its main cannon is a laser beam using a dye laser, right? The unnatural ice and the screen of water vapor… They both interfere with light. If it was designed with both of those in mind, it might have some trickier tactics prepared.”
The Princess maintained her focus even as a white screen of water vapor covered everything and new ice flowed in below the Baby Magnum.
She had done nothing more than secure her means of passage.
The true earth-shaking battle between Objects was yet to come.
The locations of both Objects, the changes in the opponent’s movements, the orientation of their cannons, the movements and creaking of their lenses and sensor heads, etc. All of the data taken in by the Object was ultimately analyzed by a human mind and she operated the Baby Magnum with the instincts of her fingertips. The Spectre Q&A fired its frightening laser beam main cannon a moment later.
She just barely managed to avoid it.
And instead of a straight line attack that flew at the speed of light, this attack had curved slightly through the curtain of water vapor.
“I already experienced a bending main cannon back in the Rio Grande District!!”
This time, a laser beam flew off in a seemingly random direction, collided with a hunk of ice, and bent at a sharp angle with some reduction in power. However, the Princess had predicted this as well, so she had moved her machine out of the way.
It was the same as a mirror, lens, or prism.
The Spectre Q&A was using some kind of technology to remake the icy land, reflecting its light with that ice, and bending it with the water vapor screen. But if one viewed the enemy Object as the source of the light and knew how the various obstacles would interfere with that light, it was not impossible to deal with.
Of course, this was the same as constantly doing the mental arithmetic to determine how a laser pointer would bounce around an amusement park’s house of mirrors, and while the source of the light was constantly moving around at over five hundred kph.
(I can do it.)
The Princess operated the control stick while placing some belligerence on top of her logical thinking.
Weak lasers in her special goggles read the movements of her eyes and sent her wishes to the machine.
(This isn’t an unbeatable foe. Second Generations have a single point of specialization, so if I can bring an end to that gimmick, they aren’t a threat. With my focus on the fundamentals, I have less excess weight and have lighter footwork!!)
None of that was wrong, but that did not mean it was entirely correct either.
Yes, where did the Spectre Q&A’s name come from?
It retrieved samples and optically analyzed them to work out its enemy’s weakness.
So the longer the battle continued, the more clues it had to make a comeback.
“The discord between the Winchell family and the Vanderbilt family is concentrated inside this bottle,” said Azureyfear Winchell inside the borrowed aircraft carrier’s command room.
Frolaytia mentally held her head as she sat in front of a laptop at a work desk. She was trying to directly command the Object that was currently in battle, but modern warfare’s advanced digitization allowed her to do so almost anywhere as long as she had communications equipment. But unforeseen trouble was always a possibility, so she did not want to receive a message like, “The LTE antenna just died and there’s nothing we can do. Tehepero.” The entire battalion could be wiped out like an online game character after the player’s signal cut out.
That was when the noble girl started speaking.
The girl’s bewitching body looked a little pale and she held a small bottle of blood-red wine.
“I’m not going to drink any. I only spray some on my clothes and hair like perfume.”
She giggled and then her voice dropped in tone.
“That way I will never forget the centuries of hatred contained in this bottle. That is the Winchell family way.”
“I see. Well, Blazer Bouquet is a very…unique brand that people often claim tastes like drinking perfume.”
“My, my. So you enjoy it too, major?”
Frolaytia was always smoking her long, narrow kiseru, but for some reason, she coughed now. She may have been reminded of her safe country maids and tutors.
“Blazer Bouquet is made by mixing together several rose petals and allowing them to ferment and brew within quite a lot of flower nectar. As you mentioned, major, wheat or grapes are much better if flavor is what you seek, but a powerful impression is needed for a drink served at a celebration.”
Azureyfear held the perfume-like bottle’s lid between her fingertips and swished the contents around.
“It all began several centuries ago. It was far before even the fall of the UN that is seen as the turning point between eras. This is a fairy tale about a princess who was pursued by an entire nation. Our Winchell family remained loyal and hid the princess even if it meant breaking the law, while the Vanderbilt family upheld the law and pursued the princess even if it meant betraying their loyalty. The princess tried to cast aside her name and position to live happily among the commoners, but they would not allow it. On the day of a secretly-held wedding, it was a bottle of this rose wine turned into a Molotov cocktail that broke through the chapel’s stained glass window.”
Frolaytia narrowed her eyes a little.
This was a delicate historical issue directly linked to ideology. If she said the wrong thing she would trigger the kind of harsh response that was willing to continue hunting someone down for one hundred years. She chose her words carefully as she responded.
“I had heard that story is merely a highly plausible theory, just like the big bang theory.”
“Yes. When the rise of Objects brought the demise of the nuclear age, all sorts of storage media were turned to ash. There’s no telling just what people threw into that figurative conflagration if they had any inconvenient truths they wished to rid themselves of. It must have looked like the most effective shredder imaginable. For one thing, no one even knows if the fall of the UN really was what created the Objects. Similarly, no one knows the truth of our two families after crossing that turning point.”
The Blue Rose continued after kissing the small blood-red bottle.
“But if facts were intentionally erased, there was a reason for them to be erased. Even if the story contained within the Blazer Bouquet is false, something even more repulsive lurks even deeper within. Could you feed your baby some baby food that listed its ingredients simply as ‘unknown’? Can you really rest easy just because you don’t know? Really??”
“The very fact that it is listed as ‘unknown’ is suspicious. Thus there is no real reason to search any further. Even if the maker sent out a correction, you would never believe it. You would throw out all of the baby food and rely on a different maker, wouldn’t you?”
She was already set in her ways on this.
It was not just the lack of a stairway to compromise. She had prepared arguments to justify not seeking compromise.
That was Frolaytia’s honest opinion, but she of course did not speak that aloud.
Then an electronic tone sounded.
Her laptop was lending a helping hand at the best possible time.
“Major Capistrano, this is not quite an emergency, but the large-scale water vapor explosions among the icebergs have altered the weather over a wide area.”
“Excuse me, young lady. …Is a tornado or downburst forming?”
“Nothing yet, but our Doppler radar is showing a definite supercell. Noise from the gathering storm clouds and surges of lightning might interfere with our transmissions. In order to stay informed of the changing environment, I would recommend coming down to the battle command station if possible.”
She did everything she could to keep it from showing on her face, but Frolaytia was relieved and concluded she was blessed with some excellent subordinates. She had no problem with historical romance, but that changed when it had brought about hatred that still continued to this very day.
She folded up her laptop and stood from the large chair at the work desk.
“Allow me to see you to your room.”
“No need. I would collapse from heat stroke in there. Might I stay here?”
That would normally not be allowed, but they were essentially “renting out” the entire small aircraft carrier. The command room had nearly been turned into a hotel room, so it only contained a change of clothes and the laptop Frolaytia held under her arm. There were no documents or equipment with classified information and the drawers were all empty.
So she could easily answer.
“Yes, that’s fine. I will be posting a guard in front of the door, though.”
After their formal exchange, only Azureyfear remained in the room.
She removed the small bottle’s lid, attached a spray cap, and lightly sprayed some on the thick blood vessels on her wrists and neck.
She calmed herself as she enjoyed the rosy smell and then reached for the chest of her blue dress. She pulled out a small handheld device she had not informed the battalion she had.
She used a communications method based on a special detour to contact a certain someone.
“How do you do, White Lily of Vanderbilt? You seem to be investigating us, but did your lovely rat-like efforts turn anything up?”
“I can’t believe you… This isn’t passing through the military server. What kind of dirty magic trick is this?”
“Secrets are the ultimate luxury only afforded to the privileged. The common folk put all their effort into experiencing cheap imitations, but those of us at the top are of course laughing at their wasted efforts.”
“Just talking to myself, White Lily. I care not what the Whore of Vanderbilt does in her spare time. I will praise you for shaking that vulgar ass of yours to steal away a portion of our Winchell family as part of your plan, though”
The Blue Rose placed the word “but” on her tongue.
With one hand holding the handheld device, she used the other to spin around the perfume bottle of hateful wine.
“If you drag my brother into that pathetic hobby you call ‘pacifism’, you will wish I had only burned your face off with a Molotov cocktail, Bitch of Vanderbilt. I will turn every last hair on your head into dust.”
She did not speak particularly strongly, but a strange pressure was hidden within her tone.
A commoner with no history behind their name may have fainted when that pressure struck them head-on.
But the girl she was speaking to was different.
The Legitimacy Kingdom’s Vanderbilt family had been around for at least several centuries, just like the Winchell family.
The young lady of that family laughed as she replied.
“Oh, dear. …Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Don’t tell me you think I forced Master Heivia to join me in all this.”
“If so, I’m sorry to say I was only doing what he asked me to. I will, however, admit I had some spare time on my hands and continued my investigation after interpreting his request more broadly than he probably intended.”
“Blue Rose. It isn’t right to blame your brother’s lover just because he isn’t giving you any attention. …What are you doing? The Vanderbilt family has a countermeasure office dedicated to the Winchell family and you are hiding something that not even their network could detect.”
“You will know soon enough.”
Water splattered against the window
Dark clouds had rapidly filled the sky and rain was pouring down.
“Or should I say, it is already too late.”
It was raining.
Raindrops large enough to hurt on the cheek poured down like a waterfall.
The artificial rain shower created a great din. The previous water vapor explosions had caused this. The vaporized water had cooled in the air, solidified, and fallen as water once more.
“Is it just me or is the Princess the one kicking us around this time?”
“It’s probably just you.”
“No, it’s because you were flirting with Azureyfear! Nothing good comes from pissing off the goddess of victory that holds all of our lives in her hands!!”
“You’re blaming this on your sister again, you gloomy noble!? I’m sick of hearing that. That has nothing to do with the Princess’s mental state!!”
“Are you on Colorful Vanilla!? How else could you be so clueless!? You’re the real spoiled bastard here, so I think you’re the one that deserves a fist to the face!!”
“S-stop that, you two. C’mon, you shouldn’t fight.”
The two idiots ignored the weak-willed middle-aged man and started grappling on top of the artificial ice shelf, but they soon realized they had bigger problems.
A flash of light much brighter than before stabbed into their retinas.
“What the hell!?”
They curled up like lightning had struck nearby, but the light had not been targeting them. If so, they would have been vaporized already.
It was a laser beam.
It had grazed one of the Baby Magnum’s seven main cannons as the Object continually dodged the Spectre Q&A’s man cannons.
“Dammit! It didn’t react that much before, did it!?”
“Wait a second. I think the Princess was shaken by that!”
The optical weapon had done more than tear at the thick armor. A tremendous explosion and shockwave followed. The half-melted main cannon had already been rendered useless, but it bent and strained like a fishing rod. The entire two hundred thousand ton mass seemed to be shoved to the side and it stopped moving.
The Spectre Q&A’s main cannon moved carefully.
It fired the main cannon again and again. The Princess quickly resumed her evasive action, but it lacked life.
Heivia muttered to himself in the downpour.
“What was that? It didn’t look like a normal laser.”
“A dye laser. Damn, Frolaytia even mentioned it back in the pre-mission briefing!!”
“Wh-what is that, Quenser?” asked Kevin. “How is it different from a normal laser!?”
“A dye laser has color added to the medium used to oscillate the laser. By switching between media, this almighty laser can theoretically create light with any wavelength, from ultraviolet to visible light to infrared.” Quenser demonstrated the fruits of his studies to his awful friend. “But dye lasers are pretty inefficient. Enough that a different type of laser is needed for the pumping…that is, adjusting it to a usable band of light. You could say that thing’s main canon is a combination of different types of lasers, like a multi-stage rocket. Since it uses different wavelengths of light, it has to switch between different media like a color palette. And of course, the more complicated the system, the harder it is to maintain and the greater the risk of it malfunctioning. Normally, a dye laser isn’t well-suited for use as a weapon.”
“What are you trying to say, Quenser!?” asked Kevin.
“It’s a really useful but really inconvenient laser! The end!!”
“Yeah, well that giant thing’s gotten it to work. There has to be a reason why. Unless some shitty government official had some shitty plot to embezzle the people’s shitty tax money.”
“Heivia, how do lasers do damage in the first place?” asked Quenser. “Setting aside some special cases, they transmit the energy of the light to their target and destroy it with that. That’s the basic idea of a laser. That means efficiency matters. What wavelength of light will build up the most energy in the material making up the armor? What matters here is that the Spectre Q&A’s dye laser main cannon can produce light ranging from the ultraviolet to visible light and infrared.”
“Hold on. So that blast just now…”
“We already know it performs optical analysis on the stripped pieces of armor panels and the special gas floating in the air and puts together its tactics based on that. There are countless variations in Object armor. The expert craftsmen add in the fire-resistant reactive material almost by instinct and no machine can emulate it. But what if the Spectre Q&A’s analysis has reached that level?”
“It can choose the laser that will have the most effect on the Princess’s armor? That’s what caused that explosion!? She took far, far more energy than from a normal laser!?”
“Yes, but it’s more about efficiency than power.”
“It doesn’t matter. That isn’t just a tricky-to-use optical weapon. Is it more like an explosive laser that destroys the material with all its built-up energy!?”
Kevin trembled in fear at what Heivia was saying.
Even now, the Princess was making quick evasive actions. Her footwork was as nimble as a mixed martial artist’s, but the Spectre Q&A was sending in more drift ice. That artificial ice was created by freezing the sea water with great pressure. Once that stopped her, her enemy could get a definite hit in. The preparations for that were already underway.
“B-but it’s still a laser isn’t it? She already knew it was bad to get hit by it! So she just has to make sure she isn’t hit! Then it won’t explode, right!?”
“Weren’t you listening, Heivia?”
Quenser rejected that optimistic view.
“Its dye laser can create any wavelength.”
A moment later, several explosions erupted from the space around the Baby Magnum rather than the Object itself.
The noise alone was enough to not just pound on their eardrums but fill their heads with internal pressure. Heivia curled up and yelled while suffering from a dull headache.
“What is it now!?”
“It created the optimal wavelength for either the surrounding air, the low-stability plasma cannon gas floating around, or the static electricity repellant!! It’s just like a laser space elevator. The air expanded to create explosive shockwaves that hold the Princess in place!!”
The laser contained enough energy to pierce through an Object which could survive a nuclear blast.
That pressure exploded in the air and scattered around.
The Baby Magnum was not at the center of the blast and was not destroyed, but entirely avoiding the surface of pressure created by the shockwave was not easy and that pressure approached from multiple directions at once. The fifty meter machine’s movements were cut short and it could not keep up its nimble evasions.
The Spectre Q&A had no reason to rush.
It had the optimal game piece on the optimal square on the game board, so it could tease its opponent until they self-destructed.
With the drift ice interfering from below and the shockwaves from above, the Baby Magnum was losing valuable seconds and would eventually be fatally delayed.
Then the monster’s dye laser would switch its palette and fire the most efficient attack for the Baby Magnum.
Whether opening a photo album or activating a voice recorder, Kevin curled up and muttered something while staring at his handheld device.
“Marie, Wells. Dad is doing his best on the other side of the globe. I swear I’ll keep my promise, so let’s have a blast at the amusement park. But…ahh, but if dad can’t make it back…Wells, listen up. You need to support your mom. This is a promise between men, okay?”
“Oh, shut up you. Stop praying like that. More importantly, what are we going to do?”
Still curled up, Heivia clenched his teeth against the shockwave that was breaking apart the icy land.
“We were caught in this thing’s web from the beginning! How are we supposed to win!?”
A round lifeboat floated between the drift ice.
Inside were three blonde girls in red parade uniforms and the young man in charge of their care.
“Good, good. I was a little worried when the Legitimacy Kingdom melted the ice and triggered all those water vapor explosions, but we should be fine now.”
“It’s all progressing well.”
“It feels like we’re finally back on track, doesn’t it?”
All three were facing each other with military handheld devices in hand as if they were children playing coop with handheld games. The young man was left out and he kept glancing out the round window at the intermittent light and noise.
The three sisters (who actually wanted to show off to him) were a little displeased with that, but they refocused themselves.
“I didn’t think you would accept this job, Dry.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“Because this request for help came from the Laser Cracker 001. Y’know, the one suspected to be involved in that drug war. That may be efficient, but isn’t it disgusting?”
The sensible young man’s shoulders gave a start as he stared out the window.
The triplets (mistakenly) concluded they could gather his attention with this topic, so there was no stopping them.
“He’s not some money-obsessed drug dealer. In a way, he is taking part in the drug war, though.”
“Huh? Then wat is he doing?”
“The Laser Cracker 001’s Elite uses the internet to send his designer drug recipes to the enemy maintenance base, but he doesn’t do it to sow confusion in their maintenance or command structure.”
“Ohh, I get it now.”
“He wanted a bad example. Something like a poster hung up in an infirmary.”
“Right, right. Just like any other type of war, there’s offense and defense in a drug war. You attack by sending your products to the enemy nation and earning money. You defend by blocking the products from entering your own country and secretly spreading awareness to make the youth afraid of using the products. A bad example is the best for that. Like showing pictures of paint thinner addicts’ teeth or the torn-up skin of addicts after they tried to scratch at the hallucinations of bugs crawling all over them.”
“You can’t use your own people for that bad example.”
“And even if it’s an enemy nation, you don’t want to destroy the people in a safe country.”
“So he used an enemy nation’s soldiers. If the news runs a story on the sorry state of the soldiers after abusing drugs on the battlefield, no one will try to use that ‘cool and artistic key to the gates of heaven’.”
“Even drugs are about brand name and image, aren’t they? You can see that pretty clearly when a legal drug becomes an illegal drug, when the illegal drug starts being called an herb or something, and when it’s finally known as a dangerous drug. That’s a different sort of defense.”
“It leads to rumors that the filthy soldiers on the battlefield were caught in a national conspiracy, have their teeth falling apart as if from cavities, have their noses constantly running, and get hallucinations that lead to chewing their own fingers to shreds. Of course no one’s going to try to use it after hearing that.”
The young man was reaching information overload and had completely lost track of who was saying what. Oblivious to that minor change yet hoping to attract that normal person’s attention, the three genius girls continued their complicated discussion.
“But what does that say about the current incident?”
“Yes, that ergot alkaloid lysergic acid derivative.”
“He’s the one in charge of producing that, right? That seems out of character for the Laser Cracker 001. He usually takes the defensive side of the drug war to reduce the damage done.”
“There’s a reason behind it.”
Alisa Martini Sweet smiled thinly with the kind of cruelty unique to a genius.
“This is but the tip of the iceberg.”
“What is it, goddammit!? My ears are hurting too bad to hear you properly!!”
As the repeated explosions and shockwaves gradually cornered the Princess, Quenser grabbed Heivia’s shoulders and shouted loud enough to not be drowned out.
“We need to pull up the rubber boat that’s still in the water! We need the Armadillo’s help. Heivia, you and Kevin help me out!!”
“What are you even trying to do!? Wouldn’t jumping down to the boat be the faster way out of here!?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Quenser glared at the distant Spectre Q&A that was firing its explosive laser main cannon that made use of a dye laser.
“We’re going to do something about that thing. I can’t let it keep bullying the Princess. And if it gets away, the drug war affecting safe countries will continue. Colorful Vanilla will be spread without end while some government official’s wallet gets fatter. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth, so we need to do something, whether that means capturing the Pilot Elite or analyzing the drug.”
“You’re…right. It seems to only be targeting the Capitalist Corporations for now, but they’re still targeting safe countries. I don’t want to leave any chance of that being spread anywhere near Marie and Wells.”
They used the synthetic rope to pull up the boat. Once it was up on the ice, they let out the air and it automatically transformed into the suitcase-sized Armadillo.
“Let’s turn this around before they reach checkmate. Come on, Heivia.”
“Are you kidding!? We have to run through all those explosions and shockwaves!?”
The two idiots and the middle-aged man crouched down and ran along the cracked ice land with the small power supply Armadillo.
As they felt vibrations that seemed to beat all of their skin like a drum, Quenser spoke over the radio.
“Princess, can you hear me?”
“What is it, Quenser? I’m a little busy.”
“Turning down people’s invitations on the pretext of being ‘busy’ is a warning signal when it comes to interpersonal relations, so be careful.” He twisted his lips in a smile as he joked. “Can you move from the point you’ve been concentrating your fire on and move the primary battlefield elsewhere? I want to set up a trick while you do, so you’ll have to make sure the Spectre Q&A doesn’t notice.”
“You don’t like giving easy requests, do you?”
“If you can’t, the situation will only get worse. You know you’re being pushed around on the chess board, right? You’ll only be cornered if you let more time pass.”
She replied through her actions rather than words.
The Baby Magnum veered to the side. Laser beams and low-stability plasma cannons blew away the surviving portion of the artificial ice shelf, clearing a new path with water vapor explosions. She was running off.
“Let’s go, Heivia! You too, Kevin!!”
“I know, you bastard, but can you at least tell me how many times you’re planning to get us killed today!?”
In the area where the Objects had been fighting, the thick ice had either melted or was full of cracks in a web-like pattern. It was not a ship designed to float, so it could capsize at any time. It was quite thrilling, but the two idiots and the middle-aged man got as close to the “cliff” as they could.
But then short bursts of gunfire reached them.
Kevin curled up on the spot and Heivia dragged him back behind the suitcase-sized Armadillo.
“What!? Why are soldiers showing up now!? Are those Information Alliance!? I thought the Spectre Q&A worked on its own!”
Heivia used his large knife as a mirror to check on the situation from behind cover. He saw four or five frogmen in pure white wetsuits, so they may have been planning to fight on the ice. They were about two hundred meters away. There were more cracks on the seemingly pure white surface, so they had likely crawled up from the ocean rather than appearing from thin air.
“Seriously, what is this!? I have no idea what role they could be playing.”
“It doesn’t matter. If we don’t take them out and keep moving, we can’t help the Princess! She’ll be bullied to death by the Spectre Q&A!!”
Inside the round lifeboat, the three girls in red parade uniforms clicked their tongues in unison.
One of them opened her mouth.
“Our white frog bodyguards reacted. They may have gotten unexpectedly close.”
Dry gunfire echoed across the icy land.
However, the enemy had the upper hand. The three guys were crammed in behind the suitcase-sized cover and unable to move, plus Heivia was the only one who could return fire. There were not that many Information Alliance frogmen, but they still worked together to corner their enemies.
Heivia realized the situation was not going to improve, so he made a suggestion.
“Hey, let’s let Kevin escape. If we drop him and the Armadillo into the water, he can escape with the boat.”
“If we don’t keep moving, the Princess will lose! Then the entire battalion will be wiped out!!”
“That’s why we’ll stay here! Quenser, pull out those bombs you love so much. I’ll throw a smoke grenade to block their vision, so let’s stack up the blocks of ice to create a new shield. You can blow up a nearby mountain to get the ice. I don’t see how we can fight back otherwise.”
“It’s risky, but it’s looking like our only option.”
Quenser gulped and agreed, but middle-aged Kevin looked nervous.
“W-wait. You’re going to build yourself a pyramid in the middle of all those bullets? Even with the smoke blocking their vision, they’re still going to be firing. You’ll be killed if you’re hit!!”
“You don’t need to worry. On my signal, fall back with the Armadillo. You meet up with the rest of the battalion!!”
“But why just me!?”
“Shut up! I don’t want to protect a greasy old man, but you’ve got a wife and kid, right? You promised to take them to an amusement park when you take leave next, right!? If I let you die here, they’d hate me forever. I’m not about to let that happen!!”
“Say hi to Marie and Wells for us. Have enough fun for us all.”
It was not that Quenser and Heivia were used to this.
The two idiots’ faces were covered in unpleasant sweat.
But they stuck with it.
They stared at the Information Alliance frogmen who had come from who-knows-where, but Kevin’s face crumbled as he looked at those two.
And he made a confession.
“Hm? What!? I can’t hear you over the gunfire, Kevin! And just get going already!!”
“It was all a lie!!”
Kevin shouted over the deadly din this time.
“I made up the marriage!! I was ashamed of not being married at my age, so whenever anyone asked about it, I said I was. And as I kept lying, it got more and more detailed. Next thing I knew, it was like this. I don’t have anything. You’d be wasting your deaths if you covered for me! So let’s think of something else!! Something that doesn’t require risking your lives for someone who’ll spend his leave going to strip clubs alone and eating cup noodles in his tiny apartment!!”
It was a lovely confession.
All expression vanished from the two idiot’s faces.
They removed their assault rifle, backpack of Hand Axe plastic explosive, and other equipment. Then they equipped it all on Kevin instead. In no time at all, he had evolved into a snowman-like Full Weapon Kevin. It even looked like he would have trouble moving with all that on.
“Eh? Eh? Wait. What is this?”
“It’s simple. Your job is simple: Run, kill, and come back. It’s the standard job for a Legitimacy Kingdom soldier living off of the people’s taxes.”
“Wait a second! I forced myself to make that confession because I didn’t want to lose anyone! I wanted us to find a solution where everyone survives!!”
“Don’t worry. This is the best option.”
Quenser and Heivia both placed a hand on Kevin’s shoulders, brought their smiling faces in close, and spoke in unison.
“It’ll be fine. There’s no way a guy like you would die.”
“Wah, wah! That’s gunfire! Wh-what do we do?”
The young man let out a shout as he looked out through the round lifeboat’s window. The three girls of the Martini series continued relaxing and reached for a radio.
“Yes, retreat, retreat. All you white frogs need to find a good point to escape! Don’t be stupid. They’ll send reinforcements if you kill them and they’ll continue the investigation even if you die. Having some unknown people disappear for some unknown reason is perfect!! The Object is still making a mess of things up there, so the birdbrained Legitimacy Kingdom will forget about you pretty quickly. Just! Do! It! You need to make sure they don’t find us here in the ocean!!”
“Wow, Kevin actually survived.”
“From now on, he can be our shield. Let’s just follow him around.”
The white frogmen (probably) from the Information Alliance were gone. Kevin’s suicide charge had not actually killed them all. They seemed to have retreated into a crack in the thick ice.
“What was that about?”
“Who knows. This might just have been their landing point.”
Meanwhile, Kevin was angry.
He was gasping for breath and throwing his hands into the air on the pure white land.
“Hurry on over here! Hurry uuuuuup!! What was that, you pieces of shit!? Why would you send me on a suicide charge!? I thought we were friends!”
“What do you think about that?”
“He decided for himself how close we were and then got mad when it didn’t turn out that way. I can see why he isn’t married.”
At any rate, the direct danger had passed.
If they did not get back on track, the Baby Magnum would be defeated by the Spectre Q&A. They needed to collect what was scattered across the paths – or rather, the area – the two Objects had passed through during their fight.
Quenser crouched down and focused on something glittering on the vast icy surface.
“What is that?”
Heivia was asking about a ten centimeter wide disk that looked like a crushed dome. It had deviated so far from its original form that he had trouble picturing it.
“This is one of the Baby Magnum’s armor panels. It was completely melted and then re-hardened after pouring down on the ice. It’s shaped like a drop of dew on a window, right?”
“Then did the Spectre Q&A take this in to analyze the Princess’s structure?”
Heivia glanced over at the Armadillo.
“That busty commander gave us some decoy armor and special gas, didn’t she? We might be able to confuse it if we scatter them around.”
“It’s too late for that now. It’s already finished its official optical sample analysis, so it’ll be able to tell those are decoys now. Fortunately, we don’t have to do that.”
“They don’t have to be decoys.” Quenser waved the disk around a little. “One or two isn’t enough. Heivia, Kevin. Let’s split up and search for the Princess’s armor. The more we have, the better.”
“Dammit. I feel like a kid searching for unexploded ordnance for some money.”
“Ugh. I risked my life for trash like this?”
With that, their battlefield scavenger hunt began.
Quenser, Heivia, and Kevin gathered the scattered armor fragments and placed them on top of the Armadillo.
“The Princess is going to be stripped bare before long. Can you tell us what we need to do now?”
“This should be enough. Princess!!”
“I’m about to give you the Armadillo’s control frequency. Um, it’s model number…S…12…A! Use its location for this! Listen, I’m only going over the plan once!!”
The Legitimacy Kingdom called it the Spectre Q&A.
The Information Alliance called it the Laser Cracker 001.
That Second Generation Object’s Pilot Elite had already perfectly drawn out the pathway to victory. The Object had a press-style icemaker that used its massive weight to harden the seawater into artificial drift ice. It also had a laser that created giant explosions and shockwaves using the special gas floating in the air. Those factors gradually dulled the Legitimacy Kingdom First Generation’s movements and reduced its freedom of movement. Once that passed a certain point, the enemy would be immobilized and he could fire the most effective explosive laser.
Piercing straight through the center would break it apart like a giant firework.
But then something odd happened.
The outdated Legitimacy Kingdom First Generation put up an unnecessary struggle.
Water vapor rose from below the Laser Cracker 001. It was a massive white curtain that made it look like a cumulonimbus cloud had formed on the ground. However, the Pilot Elite was unfazed. The Laser Cracker 001 used an amphibious air cushion, so the ice melting away was not a problem. Its many sensors could still detect the enemy’s position through the white curtain. Most importantly of all, randomly destroying the game board was pointless. To anyone who knew the rules of chess, an amateur moving without giving it any thought only seemed to be placing the noose around their own neck.
That was why the Elite’s path to checkmate was shortened by twenty moves.
Weak lasers read the movements of his eyes and the enemy was accurately targeted through the curtain. He chose the recorded wavelength for the enemy’s armor rather than the special gas and switched the main cannon’s color palette.
It would only take one attack.
The Pilot Elite did not hesitate.
His thumb stroked across the button at the top of the lever and he pressed it.
A moment later, the screen before his eyes filled with the color white.
They had not had time to leisurely put some distance between them.
Quenser, Heivia, and Kevin were caught in the middle of a giant water vapor explosion and collapsed onto the pure white ice shelf.
“Dammit! Son of a bitch!! What was that!?”
“I-I won’t die here. I’ll be just fine! After all, I have gifted blood!! My brother’s an astronaut!!”
“That’s as useless as a blood type horoscope, you dumbass!!” Heivia shouted in absolute desperation. “There was a huge explosion right next to the Spectre Q&A! Did its main cannon screw up or something!?”
“No,” corrected Quenser. “It was the Princess’s armor fragments we gathered. We placed them on the ice and had the Armadillo’s radio signal act as a guide. The Princess blasted them and caused a water vapor explosion, so the melted and vaporized armor turned to spray with the water. So what do you think happens if someone fires into that curtain with an explosive laser designed to efficiently transmit its energy to the Princess’s armor and explode?”
“That’s what happened, Princes!! The Spectre Q&A was hit by the shockwave from that point blank blast. Finish this before it can recover from the knockback!!”
The Information Alliance’s Second Generation had a powerful main cannon and the unexpected damage created a short lag before it could recover.
The Princess was not about to overlook that.
The revolver-like turret at the base of her main cannon turned to select the low-stability plasma cannon out of the multiple options. As the Spectre Q&A wobbled and seemed to lack life, she did not hesitate to target the center of its spherical body.
A bright light and an explosive sound surged out.
The blast pierced the vital point, destroying the reactor, and the Second Generation seemed to swell out. So much energy burst into the outside world that it caused an unbelievably large explosion. It seemed to wear away the lifespan of their retinas and eardrums, but they felt a strange high in addition to the pain. The disconcerting pressure hanging over them was eliminated, their safety was assured, and they were overwhelmed by an instinctual elation, much like staring into a flickering flame.
This feat was known as dragon slaying.
The sight seemed to easily break the floodgates of human rationality.
Kevin raised a frightened yet strangely excited voice.
“W-we did it!! I didn’t die!! I’m not gonna let myself die single!! Ohhhh!! Let’s get back to the base zone where love and romance await me!! …H-huh? Why don’t you look happy?”
The two idiots ignored the middle-aged bachelor as they stared blankly into the distance.
“Hey, what do we do now?”
“We can’t figure out who’s behind the drug war using the ergots without either that Pilot Elite or the Object itself, right?”
Frolaytia was holding her head back in the aircraft carrier’s battle command station.
Destroying the Information Alliance Second Generation, clearing the unnatural ice blocking the Cape of Good Hope, and securing the safety of the sea were all desirable results, but now they had lost their chance to determine who was behind the drug war.
“It’s better than getting wiped out because we were too focused on that, but I still want to punch them later.”
Meanwhile, Frolaytia received a report from a young operator with the courage to speak to her when she was clearly in a bad mood.
“We just received an external communications request. A civilian one. It seems to be from the young Vanderbilt lady.”
“Not a problem. Put her through.”
She had it routed to her laptop and a familiar face appeared in the video chat window.
However, something was not right.
“Major Capistrano!? There’s a Second Generation Object there!”
“I can’t discuss details of military operations with you, lady. But I can tell you the Information Alliance threat is gone and your secret lover is just fine. But just this once, okay?”
“No!! Vanderbilt’s countermeasures office has finally tracked them down. The threat is not an Information Alliance Objec-…”
Severe static filled the transmission, but the answer arrived before she could question it.
“…a Legitimacy Kingdom Object! Azureyfear has you in her deadly sights!!”
At that same time, Quenser, Heivia, and Kevin were picked up by the other Legitimacy Kingdom soldiers taking part in the mission. They were stuffed inside a rubber boat made from an Armadillo as they and the Baby Magnum made their way back to the aircraft carrier fleet.
“Anyway, is your brother really an astronaut?”
“He’s probably lying again.”
“I-I am not. You might not believe me, but that one’s true!”
At that exact moment, a deafening noise filled the world.
The next thing they knew, more than two thirds of the hundred-ship fleet, including destroyers and early-warning ships, was broken apart. Their relief at finally returning vanished in a heartbeat and their minds went blank. There was nothing they could do as a giant wave sped their way. Unable to maintain its balance, the rubber boat flipped right over.
“Just grab on! You’ll get caught in the sinking ships! And what was that!?”
“Ah wah wah wah wah wah.”
“Kevin! Grab onto the boat if you don’t want to die!!”
They had no time to flip the boat right-side up, so the soldiers grabbed on and witnessed what happened next.
There was a giant iceberg that looked like two mountains stuck together.
“What!? What is that!?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me! It’s that tits iceberg!!”
It crumbled, melted, and shattered from within.
Something far too large was slowly revealed.
It had a spherical body fifty meters tall. In addition to the air cushion directly below, it had upside-down Y-shaped insectoid legs with boosters covering the sides. It had a single main cannon on the very front and it lacked the countless secondary cannons that usually made one look like a sea urchin or chestnut burr. Instead, some strange devices that resembled peacock feathers were disconcertingly moving on the back.
Quenser spoke in utter shock.
“But who does it belong to? Was the Information Alliance hiding another-…!?”
Heivia trailed off, so Quenser looked over to his awful friend.
“Hey, what is it?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Heivia cried out like he was having a nightmare.
“Why the hell does that Object have the Winchell family crest on it!?”
The three Martini sisters clapped their hands with joy inside the round lifeboat.
“Success, success. Losing the Laser Cracker 001 was a shame, but this was our top priority. I’m just glad the surprise wasn’t accidentally revealed while they were melting all that ice.”
“In this day and age, completely hiding from radar and satellites is impossible. Even the best stealth can only reduce the radar cross-section so much, so completely disappearing isn’t easy. …The best way to hide is to provide a reason for the large dot on the screen that everyone will accept. For example, icebergs may look small on the surface, but they continue for hundreds of meters below the water.”
Only the young man was staring out the window like he was seeing the end of the world.
“Y-y-you mean you intentionally sealed an entire Object inside the artificial ice? That way it could be carried in by the ocean current without anyone noticing!?”
“Good job! You figured it out on your own! Let me reward you.”
“Hey, stop that, Dry! But I take it that means the higher ups authorized this.”
“Because they knew they would get something even better in return,” said Alisa Martini Sweet as she laughed and joined the fight over the normal man. “They knew they would get something worth handing the Legitimacy Kingdom a Second Generation built in one of our factories. We get to watch as a true celebrity in an enemy nation disgraces herself by starting a civil war as the greatest sacrifice of the drug war. It’s the ultimate negative campaign.”
The Cape of Good Hope region was instantly transformed into the Bermuda Triangle or Sargasso.
A great number of ships sank into the ocean or tilted and just barely remained floating. There was no recovering though, so the crew used the time limit until the inevitable sinking to escape on the lifeboats.
Meanwhile, a girl in a blue dress ignored the lifeboats and stood tall on a broken fighter wing with her arms crossed.
As Heivia desperately clung to the upside-down boat so as not to be sucked in by the current of the sinking fleet, he stared blankly at his sister.
“I believe I forgot to ask before: how do you do, brother? What do you think of Second Generation Destruction Fes that I have received? Don’t you think it has the coolest shape, truly befitting the Winchell family crest?”
“What are you…saying?”
“Do I have to spell it out?”
Azureyfear pointed her thumb back over her shoulder to direct his attention toward the dreadful fifty meter form.
“That is my personal possession. It took some doing, though. Even for a noble, owning an Object is a bit of a hurdle for a private force that is not part of the military. I even had to cross borders to have it constructed in an Information Alliance factory.”
“I never said it was easy. We built the control system, but the Information Alliance found so many things to complain about and refused to hand over the Object itself. I was a little worried when they delayed it until today, but they have confirmed receipt of the money and it arrived in time for its launching ceremony.”
“Objects aren’t that simple! You need more than the five billion dollars it costs to construct! There are usage and maintenance costs! And since the Information Alliance is involved, there would need to make sure you can’t betray them with it and make sure their data isn’t leaked to the Legitimacy Kingdom!!”
“Oh, dear. But you’ve already seen the alchemy used to raise those funds. A rotten yet sweet sort of war that brings unlimited riches to whoever runs it.”
This time, Heivia Winchell felt his mind go entirely blank from that casual comment.
Instead, Quenser responded while clinging to the same boat.
“The drug war… So you were the one running it on the Legitimacy Kingdom side.”
“But…she’s a noble!” shouted Kevin as he grew pale. “Why!?”
Nobles were a symbol of law and order. The commoners trusted them enough to leave politics to them and they seemed so far removed from common life, but Azureyfear nodded with a wicked smile on her lips.
“How many manors outside the watchful eyes of the noble and royal councils do you think the Winchell family owns? Transforming a few of them into ergot plants was hardly difficult. Plus, the Information Alliance was willing to handle the production of Colorful Vanilla and use it to attack the Capitalist Corporations. I could have done that on my own, but they were kind enough to help.”
“Then the one who finished off the Special 15th Black Uniforms in the Rio Grande District was…?”
“They were useful pawns, but I couldn’t have them talking there. Although I only needed to keep it hidden until today, so I ended up using a fairly sloppy method of silencing them.”
A powerful wind roared through.
They were not the only ones who could not remain silent. The Princess in the Baby Magnum had begun rushing toward the unknown Object as if to say she refused to allow any more damage to be done.
But Azureyfear calmly pulled folding neckband-style headphones from the chest of her dress, unfolded them, placed them on her ears, and spoke three simple words.
“That is useless.”
Even at a distance, Quenser and the others could not tell what had happened.
An unknown explosive sound filled their minds.
Quenser’s thoughts were flashing in and out as he realized the Destruction Fes bearing the crest of the Winchell family had used some kind of weapon. He could not gather his thoughts. He could not tell front from back, left from right, or even up from down. If he had not wrapped a rope on the side of the upside-down boat around his wrist, he might have drowned.
His inner ear had been taken out.
But even if he had been in a normal state of mind, would he have been able to follow that with his eyes?
If the Baby Magnum’s movements were like the footwork of a mixed martial artist, the unknown Object’s were like lightning. It moved so sharply that the Princess could not keep up. She had been the one charging toward it, but it moved up to her and they glared at each other from less than ten meters away. For humans, it would have been close enough for their lips to touch. And even that close, the unknown Object moved around behind the Princess.
It was like grabbing a delicate girl from behind and gently kissing the nape of her neck.
The unknown Object tapped its main cannon against the back of the Baby Magnum’s spherical body.
It would be too late by the time she turned around.
A point-blank blast would vaporize the princess before she had a chance to eject.
“The inertial Gs a Pilot Elite is exposed to are said to occasionally exceed twelve Gs. A normal fighter has an acceptable limit of 9.5 Gs, so that range cannot be exceeded without creatively taking a step beyond standard anatomy.”
Azureyfear made it sound so simple as she brushed back her golden hair and let dark joy fill her voice.
“But my Destruction Fes is entirely remote-controlled by a great number of personnel, so that human limit of inertial Gs can be entirely ignored. No one can capture the Destruction Fes now that it has been freed from the yoke of gravity. It will simply evade, simply rush in, and simply strike a fatal blow. It is the ultimate ultra-mobile combat Object. A sluggish manned model cannot even hope to touch it. This is not something that can be overcome with effort. It is built into the design.”
“But it’s actually working pretty well.”
Orsia Martini Dry gave a whistle as she spoke.
The round lifeboat rocked calmly in the waves.
No, at this point, it may not have mattered who was speaking.
The triplets functioned as a single unified problem-solving device. The process mattered less than the single answer they reached while chatting.
“Even as she used us, that girl is missing the main point. The Destruction Fes is indeed a major threat when viewed altogether, but the Object itself is little different from a First Generation built with existing technology. The only difference is all the extra boosters added on while ignoring the safety side of things. The main point is that it has no one on board and is remote-controlled, so it can break the limit on inertial Gs. In other words, recording and gathering the data alone will do little damage to the Information Alliance.”
“What matters is the Orchestra System that lets ten thousand normal people pilot the Object, right? That global remote control system is made up of fifty to one hundred stealth submarines and countless satellites. Without analyzing that, the Object itself is useless. And our full AI control still isn’t enough to deal with the constantly changing battlefield.”
“And destroying that system wouldn’t be easy. Not only would it take time to find the submarines, but the system can continue its remote control even with about half of them destroyed. Just how far will the damage spread while you’re wasting time on that?”
“Does it matter? This is a civil war based on an old Legitimacy Kingdom grudge. That has nothing to do with us in the Information Alliance.”
“And we’ve acquired an excellent bad example. The nobles are symbols of justice who are meant to protect the commoners, yet this one got into the narcotics business. What better ‘infirmary poster’ could we get?”
“But we aren’t going to end this here, are we?”
“Of course not. Of course not. We even used our Laser Cracker 001 to help out this Legitimacy Kingdom civil war, so we need take much, muuuuch more in payment.”
“What mental structure does a Legitimacy Kingdom noble have and how exactly will it be distorted?”
“Gaining data samples from the enemy isn’t easy, but it worked out well this time.”
“Perfect Browsing… We need all the sample entries we can get to build that giant system that will guide you to any answer with a simple search.”
“We might just get a look at a mental structure much, muuuuch greater than a noble’s.”
Feeling dizzy after his inner ear was taken out, Quenser did his best to hold onto the upside-down boat.
He looked up at Azureyfear as she crossed her arms atop the broken main wing of a fighter, he suppressed the urge to vomit, and he asked a question while trying to catch his breath.
He did not know what was right and he did not know what good buying time would do.
Nevertheless, he ignored Kevin next to him and simply moved his mouth in a daze.
“Even so, why would you go this far? Why would you try to…no, why would you actually betray the Legitimacy Kingdom to acquire a Second Generation?”
“Betray? Betray!? Me? Oh, dear. I am simply trying to remove the pus as a proper member of the Legitimacy Kingdom. My brother should know exactly what I mean.”
Heivia yelled and pulled his handgun from its holster, completely ignoring the situation.
He did not hesitate to aim it at his own family member, but Azureyfar’s expression did not change.
She snapped her fingers and the earth seemed to transform below them.
The sea split directly below her and a giant black form appeared. This time, it was not an Object. It was a stealth submarine that resembled a large ship made of origami.
It was a one hundred meter strategic weapon.
There was nothing Heivia could do as the waves tossed him around.
The handgun slipped from his grasp and he could only manage to hold onto the boat for dear life.
Meanwhile, the girl in a blue dress laughed as she stepped elegantly onto the submarine.
She grabbed her long skirt in both hands, bent her knees a little, and lowered her head.
“Now, let us end this long, fruitless history of conflict, brother.”
She held what looked like a perfume bottle in her hand.
It contained Blazer Bouquet. Centuries before, a princess had been pursued by a nation after a revolution. At her small, small wedding, that same brand had been thrown into the chapel as a merciless Molotov cocktail. That hateful wine was made by mixing together several rose petals and allowing them to ferment and brew within flower nectar.
Azureyfear’s eyes glittered as she sprayed that scent of revenge on her neck and wrists.
“I believe I will start with the Whore of Vanderbilt who has manipulated you, brother. I will crush the false buds of reconciliation, dialogue, and peace and use that solemn result to whip the lax Winchell family into shape. And before the Vanderbilt family can recover from the shock, I will settle this once and for all. And with the Destruction Fes at the lead!!”
She spoke of a nightmare.
But would it really be a dream when she had that ultra-mobile Second Generation that was freed from the yoke of gravity and could escape the grasp of any other Object in the world?
That girl had reached for the stage setting that could grant her nightmarish dream.
The look on her face made her seem possessed by a vengeful spirit.
Namely, the vengeful spirit of the history that tied together the Winchell and Vanderbilt families.
“This is a war for peace, brother.”
“I will bring glory to the Winchell family as the hero who removed a seed of global destruction from this planet!! What greater desire is there!! If this is not the duty of any with Winchell blood in their veins, then what is!? Heh heh heh. Hee hee. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”
There was nothing they could do.
Azureyfear, the Blue Rose of Winchell, was retrieved by the stealth submarine which dove back down before their eyes. This “duel” ignored all international law and war treaties and no one could stop her from sending in the cruelly powerful strategic weapon that had brought an end to the nuclear age.
Her target was in the Atlantic Ocean.
Her target was the pacifist young lady who was enjoying the world’s greatest fireworks festival from her luxury cruise ship.